Water Quality, Soil Health Solutions: Prairie Strips
Prairie STRIPS: Small areas of native prairie species are strategically placed in row crop fields. This practice results in large improvements in runoff water quality with only a small (~10%) portion of the field taken out of row crop production.
How can buffer strips have a positive impact on water quality?
Iowa State University data has shown that buffer strips and filter strips are effective in improving water quality. Returning only a small fraction of cropland to deep rooted, native prairie plants with stiff, upright stems can dramatically reduce soil erosion by 95 percent, plus losses of nitrogen by 85 percent and phosphorus by 90 percent in surface runoff. The impact of prairie strips on subsurface water flow with or without tile is difficult to measure.
The stiff-stemmed native grasses provide greater water quality benefits than non-native grasses like smooth bromegrass because the native grasses are much less likely to lay flat when there is runoff. In addition, these small prairie areas can provide important habitat for pollinators and at-risk species. Data have shown a doubling (200%) increase in bird and beneficial insect diversity with prairie strips.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Prairie Strips
Other than the cropland taken out of production, there are generally no negative impacts on crop yield. Prairie STRIPS, planted with a diverse mixture of plants, provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, songbirds and wildlife. These areas can potentially be enrolled in programs such as CRP to receive rental payments and to help with the cost of the seed mixes.